I Hope We Find Ohope

Ohope, New Zealand – February 4, 2018

In preparation for our departure from Taupo, I entered the address of our next destination into our TomTom GPS unit.  I have the GPS set to default to the fastest route.  I did not realize it at the time, the savings of 14 minutes cost us dearly.  We missed seeing the hot springs sites that dot the area around Rotorua.

At some point, TomTom directed us off the main road onto a number of very small and lightly traveled country toads.  We ended up in a very thick pine forest.  At a stop sign, TomTom directed a left turn.  However, a sign stated it was private property.  One could not enter unless one had a permit.  I looked to the right.  There was a similar sign.  The thought of backtracking through kilometers of rural emptiness did not appeal to me.  I turned left.

The forest was obviously an active logging location.  However, since it was a weekend, we saw no logging trucks.  In fact, for dozens and dozens of kilometers, we saw no other sign of humans.  There were no towns, no rest stops, no petrol stations, nothing.  I must say, it was a bit eerie.  I did have some fleeting thoughts of what we would do if we had some sort of mechanical problem, but I quickly chased those from my mind.

We ultimately made it back to civilization and a proper highway.  While the route through the forest was beautiful, I do not think I would recommend the shortcut to anyone.

After nearly two and one-half hours, we arrived at the Beachpoint Resort in Ohope.  The accommodation and the locale were so stunning, we decided to move our tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set ahead by one day.

The Beachpoint Resort. Our apartment is at the far left on the uppermost floor.

We actually arrived too early to be able to check-in to the apartment.  Instead, we parked just across the street from the Beachpoint Resort.  Armed with our reusable bags, we began combing Ohope Beach.  It was very windy and the Pacific was very angry.  I discovered later that what we witnessed was the tail-end of a large storm that was paired with a king tide.  There were piles of driftwood and seaweed.  There was also some visible damage of fencing along the beach.

Ohope Beack with the leftovers from the king-tide the day before.

I did not realize it at the time, but White Island is visible from Ohope Beach.  White Island, Whakaari in the Maori language, is one of two active volcanoes in New Zealand.  On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being very active, White Island is rated at 1.  The other active volcano, Mount Ruapehu, is also rated as a 1.  Mount Ruapehu is to the south of Lake Taupo.  We could not see it while we were there because of the weather.  The other 10 active volcanoes in the country are all rated as zeros on the scale.

Angry Pacific. Whakaari/White Island is on the horizon.

Ohope Beach is huge.  However, the lifeguards only provide supervision at a 100-meter stretch of beach.  They set up two flags about 100-meters apart.  In between the flags, they have an elevated chair and a rescue boat.  Surprisingly, there were a lot of people in the surf.

Ohope Beach lifeguards.

With our few shells and some bits of driftwood, we walked back to the car.  Leslie had talked with one of the locals.  He told her there was a pier down the road to the east.  We drove a long way but never saw a pier.  We did; however, see several signs, Avos $1.  We decided the vendors were selling freshly harvested avocados.

Since we did not find the pier, we decided to turn around and find a place for lunch.  We stumbled across The Quay Café.  My lunch was amazing.  I had some grilled prawn skewers.  They came with three different dipping sauces.  It was some of the best I had in a long time.  I highly recommend the café.

After lunch, we walked across the street to the park.  There was a wild game food festival in full swing.  The only thing I found that I was interested in was the beer booth set up by Mata Brewery.  We opted for a Mata Blondie, except for mom.  The beer is a Belgian style wheat beer.  It was delicious.  Mom joined us with a Lemmy Lemonade.

When we finished, it was time to check-in.  Once we were settled, Leslie and I headed to the store to get things for our Mexican feast that night.  With groceries in hand, we headed back to the beach.  Since the menu was Mexican food, Leslie thought it would be nice to buy some of the avocados.  We drove back to where we had seen the avocados for sale.  This is a very trusting country.  The avocados were in a box.  With the container was another box in which one is to deposit the payment.  The entire time Leslie was at the box, there was no human interaction.  Leslie selected the avocado she wanted, tossed a coin in the box, and got back in the car.

The next day, we did some beach combing and just relaxed.  The relaxation stopped after Leslie and I were trounced in two games of Yahtzee.  Regardless, it was a lot of fun.

One of these people won…it was not Leslie.
Determining what to do.
Pohutakawa tree mosaic on the sidewalk.
Huge pohutakawa tree in the park.
Purple flowers.
Orange flower and buds.
Purple flowers version 2.
Moutohora/Whale Island.
Black-billed gull.
Ohope Beack with Moutohora/Whale Island in the distance.
Beachcombers versions 2.
Beware of low-flying gulls…
The quality inspection step.
Ohope Beach.
Moutohora/Whale Island.
Panorama view from our terrace. Moutohora/Whale Island is visible on the far left.
Ohope Beach aftermath.

Where the Hobbits Were

Matamata, New Zealand – February 5, 2018

We departed from Ohope Beach at nearly 07:00.  Our destination was the iSite (tourist information) at Matamata to take the 10:00 tour of the Hobbiton movie set.  The weather forecast called for showers.  However; during our drive, it was clear.

The tourist information site at Matamata definitely has a Hobbit feel.

Arriving at the iSite shortly after 09:00, the sales associate asked if we wanted to join the 09:30 tour instead.  I jumped at the chance, anxious to beat any impending rain.  The iSite had more Hobbit souvenirs than one could possibly imagine.  Since there was a gift shop at the movie set, we opted to not buy anything.

We walked outside and boarded the bus.  Our driver, Bea, told us we should expect about a 25-minute drive to the Hobbiton movie set.  During the ride, she played several video snippets detailing what was at the movie set and the history behind the set.

Sir Peter Jackson’s (the film’s director) team found the Alexander family-run farm in 1998 while scouting for locations for the filming of The Lord of the Rings movies.  It seemed the perfect location for The Shire, the home of the Hobbits of Middle-earth.  It matched J.R.R. Tolkien’s description from the books almost to a tee.

Several Hobbit Holes on the hill. Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End home is below the large tree in the upper left corner.

The set covers some 12 acres and originally contained 39 Hobbit Holes.  Filming began in December, 1999.  When filming finished, just as with most movie location sets, the land was returned to its pre-filming condition.  With a few exceptions, the Hobbit Holes used for the movie were dismantled and removed. The few exceptions were enough to draw the films’ enthusiasts to the area to “tour” the set.  Guided tours of the set commenced in 2002.

In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson and his team returned for additional filming.  This time, the Hobbit Holes were constructed of actual wood, slate, bricks, and mortar.  The re-done set claimed a total of 44 Hobbit Holes.  That is what is seen today when one takes a tour of the movie set.

The bus stopped at The Shire’s Rest.  At that site, additional tourists boarded the bus.  Once full, approximately 41 tourists, the bus crossed Buckland Road and entered the Alexander family sheep farm.

Our tour guide, Charlotte, told us one could determine the occupation of each of the Hobbit Hole occupants by the clues left out front.  That is how we deciphered the farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, etc.  We had just begun our walking tour when Charlotte pointed out a small cut in trail.  That is where Bilbo Baggins, the main character in The Hobbit, ran; shouting, “I’m going on an adventure!”  One of our fellow tourists recreated the scene while Charlotte filmed the “episode” on the tourist’s phone.

Bakers Hobbit Hole.

A walk of 1.17 kilometers (three-quarters of one mile) was ahead of us.  We stopped frequently to listen to Charlotte’s stories and to take photographs.  Like so many parts of New Zealand, the Hobbiton Movie Set was visually stunning.  The colors were amazing and the overall landscaping was absolutely perfect.  Throughout the set, there are several active garden plots.  After Leslie’s question, we discovered the produce is split amongst the gardeners that work at the set.  I am sure that is a nice extra benefit of their employment.

At the artist’s Hobbit Hole, Charlotte allowed each of us to enter while she made our photograph.  It was very kind of her to do that, especially for all 41 tourists.

To quote Bilbo Baggins, “We’re going on an adventure!” Taken as we departed the artist’s Hobbit Hole.

Charlotte shared that there was one tree on the property that was fake.  She asked if we could spot the tree.  One of the tourists piped up that it was the tree at the top of the hill.  That was correct.  The tree happened to be directly above Bilbo Baggins home, Bag End.  Just before filming, when Sir Peter Jackson arrived on set, he said the leaves were not the correct color.  That set a team into action, re-painting each leaf by hand.  I do not know what it looked like originally, but it is very nice now.

Just after the artist’s Hobbit Hole we came to an overlook.  From there, we could see most of the set; all the way to the mill and the Green Dragon Inn.  It was a beautiful view.

The view across the lake toward the Green Dragon Inn.

Next was the pinnacle of the tour; Bag End.  It was surreal to stand in front of Bilbo’s “home.”  The exterior featured in the films; however, the interior shots were made at Weta Studios in Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand.  In front of the house is a bench on which Bilbo’s pipe is sitting.  The sign on the gate to Bag End stated “no admittance; except on party business.”  The party in question, of course, was Bilbo’s 111th birthday party.

A panorama of Bag End. Note Bilbo’s pipe on the bench at the lower right.

We stopped to sit down on the party grounds.  There were a few benches under a shade cover.  We sat there while Charlotte talked about the party grounds, the party tree, and the overall celebration of Bilbo’s eleventy-first (Hobbit-speak) birthday party.

The party-tree behind our tour guide, Charlotte.

Leaving the comfort of the shade and bench behind, we walked to Samwise “Sam” Gangees’ Hobbit Hole.  The flowers in front were beautiful.  Sam is the close friend of Bilbo, joining him on his big adventure.

Sam’s Hobbit Hole.

From Sam’s Hobbit Hole, it was mostly downhill.  We walked past a beer cart left along side the road, just prior to the stone, two-arched bridge.  The bridge crosses the lake near the mill.  That made for some very scenic photo opportunities.

On the other side of the bridge is the Green Dragon Inn.  Included in the tour is a cold drink in a ceramic mug.  One can choose between three types of beer (special brews, each with 1.0% alcohol), a non-alcoholic beer, tea, or coffee.

The green dragon…

We relaxed with our drinks for a while.  Then Charlotte gathered the group and moved us to the gift shop.  Other than our refrigerator magnets, we left empty-handed.

Back on the bus, I discovered the tours run daily, except for Christmas day, rain or shine (update – our tour ended up being entirely in the shine!).  There are 70, yes, seventy; tours each day!  That means around 1,000,000 visitors each year!

The bus dropped us off at the iSite in Matamata.  We walked across the street for lunch at the Dew Drop Inn.  I had a Troll sandwich.  That was essentially a ham and cheese panini.  It tasted very good; but what amazed me most was that the sandwich stayed very hot to the last bite.

From the restaurant, it was back to the car to head to our next stop.

I cannot recommend this tour highly enough.  For those that are interested, plan a tour at Hobbiton Movie Set.

Hobbit hunter number one.
Hobbit hunters two and three.
The mill at the lake.
A portion of the Green Dragon Inn.
Looking across the lake to the set.
A view of the mill at the lake.
A display just outside the door to the store.
The Green Dragon Inn just to the left of the double-arched bridge by the mill.
Walking toward the Green Dragon Inn.
A direction sign. We departed Hobbiton, heading toward the Green Dragon Inn.
An ale wagon…my kind of transport!
Herb gardener’s Hobbit Hole.
Hobbit Holes overlooking the party grounds.
Farmer’s Hobbit Hole.
The home of Bilbo Baggins close friend, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee.
A weaver’s Hobbit Hole.
A Hobbit Hole.
Herb gardener’s Hobbit Hole.
Farmer’s Hobbit Hole
Cheese-maker’s Hobbit Hole.
Small Hobbit Hole.
Bilbo Baggins home is just below the large tree. FYI…this tree is the only fake tree on the entire set.
Bag End.
Gardener’s Hobbit Hole.
Hobbit Holes
Looking up the hill toward Bag End, Bilbo Baggins home.
A wider view of the florist Hobbit Hole.
A Hobbit Hole duplex??
This Hobbit is cooking fish for lunch just below the entry.
Florist’s Hobbit Hole
Several Hobbit Holes on the hill. Bilbo Baggins’ Bag End home is below the large tree in the upper left corner.
Gardener’s Hobbit Hole
Fisherman’s Hobbit Hole
Farmer’s Hobbit Hole
Farmer Hobbit Hole
Toy Maker Hobbit Hole

Gone Fishin’

Seaview, New Zealand – December 21, 2017

It was a smashing morning.  We were both excited for our fishing adventure with Pete Lamb Fishing.  We arrived at the Seaview Marina at about 11:40 for our 12:30 departure.  Another 19 people from the office and their family joined us, for a total of 21 people.

The Daniel with Captain Pete on the bow.

We saw our boat, the Daniel, entering the marina from Wellington Harbour.  At 62 feet (19 meters), it is a good-sized boat.  It is white with a red gunwale.  As each of us walked up the stairs and stepped on board, Captain Pete greeted us with a smile and a handshake.

Behind the pilothouse was a small room with a dining table and storage cabinets.  Leaving that room, one is on the deck.  There is a roof above about half of the deck.  The remainder is open and not shaded.


Leslie and I took up positions near the door to the dining area, under cover.  All of the fishing poles were rigged, baited, and standing in rod holders evenly spaced along the gunwale.  As the Daniel reversed from the pier and began to make its way through the marina, we marveled at some of the homes above Point Howard.  They have a commanding view of the harbour.

Pacific Rainbow

Moored just outside the Seaview Marina was the oil products tanker ship, Pacific Rainbow.  It is a 28,000-gross ton ship, capable of carrying as much as 46,000 tons of product.  At just under 600 feet (180 meters), it is small for a tanker.  I imagine that is due to the depth of the harbour.  Larger tankers probably have too deep a draft to dock at Seaview.  The contents of the tanker are pumped to holding tanks at the Mobil Petroleum Products Company for ultimate distribution throughout New Zealand.

Once in the open waters of the harbour, Captain Pete pointed the boat toward the southern point of Somes Island.  It is the largest island in the harbour.  Currently a reserve under the control of the Department of Conservation, the island previously served as an internment camp and a quarantine location for both humans and mammals.

Lighthouse on Somes Island.

We passed Somes Island off the starboard side of the boat.  I did not realize until this trip that there is a lighthouse on the island.  The current lighthouse dates from 1900, while the original lighthouse dates from 1866.  It is one of 23 operating lighthouses in New Zealand.

The weather became more and more windy.  Luckily, the wind was out of the north, so it was not real cold.  Over the course of the afternoon, it became more and more cloudy.  The good news, we did not have any rain.

Point Halswell Lighthouse.

Continuing, off the port side of the boat, we could see the Point Halswell Lighthouse.  It sits on the northern point of the Miramar peninsula.

After a trip of just under six miles (nine kilometers) we reached the “fishing hole.”  We anchored just off the point of Oriental Bay.  As soon as the anchor hit the harbour floor, Captain Pete sent his deckhand around to instruct each of us how to use the rods.  The hooks were many times larger than the hooks one uses for trout fishing.  They are known as self-setting hooks.  A trout hook looks roughly like the letter “J.”  The self-setting hooks look more like a sloppily drawn letter “J.”  The small portion of the hook is bent back considerably toward the main shaft.  The tip of the hook is bent back a little more.  Apparently this design makes it more difficult for the fish to spit out the hook.  Virtually every time, the hook ends up in the corner of the fish’s mouth.

For bait, the hooks had either fish or squid pieces.  Each pole had two baited hooks and a lead weight.  The weight was about 12 ounces.  There was no casting.  One simply placed a thumb on the wound fishing line on the reel, released the drag, and allowed the line to drop to the harbour floor.  As soon as the weight hit the harbour floor, one re-engaged the drag, wound once or twice and then waited.  The water was about 65 feet deep (20 meters).

Very quickly, people started hooking fish.  The most prevalent fish was the kahawai.  I had a large kahawai hooked, but just at the surface, it jumped off.  I did not catch anything else the rest of the afternoon.


Leslie did land a good cooking-size kahawai a little later.  Captain Pete commented that there was a school of kahawai near us as evidenced by the sea birds.  Several types of seabirds circled near the boat, diving periodically for the fish.

In addition to the kahawai, two red gurnard, one red snapper, and one barracuda found their way onto the Daniel.  When a fish made it to the deck of the boat, either Captain Pete or the deckhand removed the hook, dispatched the fish, and placed it in a cooler.  They also assisted with snags and tangles, of which there were a few.

This was a communal fishing expedition.  That means that all fish caught are filleted and distributed evenly to those fishing.  So, even though I did not catch a fish, I still got an even share of the total catch.  When the cooler was full, the deckhand began filleting the fish.  He never gutted any of the fish.  He simply filleted both sides and then removed the skin.  The deckhand tossed the remains over the side, much to the delight of the seagulls…and who knows what in the depths.

When the first fishing hole petered out (no pun intended), the captain weighed anchor and motored the boat near the port.  That meant that while we fished, we could watch the loading of ships.  There were two ships docked at the port.  One was a container ship.  The other ship was a cargo ship, taking on logs from New Zealand bound for China.

Cargo ship loaded with logs.

After 30 or 40 minutes, Captain Pete moved the boat to a spot just off the west side of Somes Island.  That is where one of the fishermen caught the lone barracuda.  The captain said the barracuda was not a keeper because of the worms they usually carry.  Instead, the barracuda became bait.

We had fished for a little over six hours when we left the west side of Somes Island, bound for the Seaview Marina.  By the time we arrived, the deckhand had all of the fillets in 21 separate plastic bags.  Since we got two bags, I estimate Leslie and I ended up with about two pounds of fish.

Two nights after the fishing trip, we had the fish for dinner along with a trout that a friend had given us.  I must say, I was not all that wild with the kahawai.  I much preferred the trout.  Regardless, the fishing trip was a lot of fun.

Container ship.
Fishing boat.
Apartments at the point at Oriental Bay.
New Zealand fish poster.
Somes Island.
Wellington in the distance, just beyond Somes Island.
Happy fisherwoman.
Seaview Marina

THE Wedding

Fruita, Colorado – September 30, 2017

On Friday, September 22, at 16:00, the taxi picked up Leslie and me to take us to the Wellington International Airport.  After a one-hour flight to Auckland; waiting at the Auckland International Airport; and an 11-hour flight to Los Angles; we arrived on Friday, September 22, at 15:00.  That was thanks to Mr. International Dateline.  Who says time travel is not possible?!

The 11-hour flight on Air New Zealand was long, but enjoyable.  The crew on the plane took such great care of us.  Leslie and I both agree that Air New Zealand is our favorite airline on this planet.

Our next flight was from LAX to DEN.  We arrived at gate B20.  Our connection to Grand Junction departed from gate B86.  That was nearly a ¾ mile hike.  Luckily Leslie had a wheelchair.  It was all I could do to keep up.

We finally arrived in Grand Junction at about 23:30. We grabbed our luggage, found the vehicle in the parking lot, and drove to Fruita.  Our total travel time, door to door, was 26 hours.  If we had not been able to sleep on the 11-hour flight, I am not sure in what shape we would have been.

The remainder of the week, leading up to THE wedding, seemed to go quite slow.  That was just fine.  There seemed to be a lot of things to handle at the last minute.

Friday evening, we all met at the church for the rehearsal.  Father Mike Smith presided over the run-throughs of the wedding.  As a family, we met Father Mike about four years ago.  Leslie, Hillary, Tyler, and I attended mass at the old location of Sacred Heart Church in Fruita, Colorado.  This happened during one of our R&R trips from Georgetown, Guyana.  After mass, but before the dismissal, we were one of the visitors that introduced ourselves.  Once dismissed, Father Mike approached us and asked to take a photo with our family.  That photo stayed on the altar for months after we left.  We are all very pleased that Father Mike took such a liking to our family.  That is the reason Hillary wanted Father Mike to preside at her wedding with Shane.  Even though retired, Father Mike graciously agreed to Hillary’s wishes.

The groom’s parents, Shane and Patti, hosted the rehearsal dinner at Belli Fiori Lavender Farm in Grand Junction.  What an amazing venue.  The owners made several types of mixed drinks using vodka they distilled.  Leslie and I opted for the Hail Caesar.  It was essentially a Bloody Mary, but it was the best we ever had.  The next time we are in Grand Junction, I want to stop by the Farm during regular business hours.  It is a very unique business.

The dinner was outdoors.  It was a little cool that evening, but thanks to some fleece blankets and outdoor gas heaters, it was quite comfortable.

On the day of THE wedding, the heavens opened about two hours prior to the ceremony.  It was an absolute downpour.  Thankfully, shortly before THE wedding, the rain ceased.  That ultimately allowed a smiling bride and an emotional father to walk down the aisle.

Hillary was ready to walk down the aisle…dad…not so much…(I did not take this photo).

Hillary wore a princess gown with a fitted bodice, a full Tule skirt, longer in the back which created the train.  The dress had some bling at the waist and in the bodice.  Please understand that even though I periodically watch Say Yes to the Dress with Leslie, none of previous words came out of my mind.  Leslie tutored me on what to write because I know some readers will be interested in those details.

THE dress for THE wedding.

When it was time for the wedding vows, it was apparent just how much Hillary and Shane meant to each other.  In addition to the traditional vows, repeated after prompting by Father Mike, Hillary and Shane each recited their own vows.  Both sets of vows were inspiring.

Recording the personal vows of Hillary and Shane. (I did not take this photo).

Hillary and Shane departed the church in an old Ford hot rod.  Shane drove the beautiful machine to the reception at the Redlands Community Center.  Upon arrival, that full Tule skirt of Hillary’s seemed to explode from the hot rod when the car door opened.  When she stood up beside the car, the roofline was roughly even with her waist.

The hot rod arriving at the reception with the bride and groom.

Colorado Q catered the Mexican meal at the reception.  The owner, Steve Preuss, was the utmost professional.  The meal was extremely well done.

After several toasts to the bride and groom, and cutting the wedding cake; the bride and groom enjoyed their first dance as husband and wife.

The first dance of wife and husband.

Even though our normal bedtime is much closer to 20:00, Leslie and I were able to make it to nearly 23:30 before we collapsed at home.

The remainder of the week passed with birthday preparations for Hillary and Tyler.  That second week seemed to pass so much more quickly than the first.

On Friday, we departed the house in Fruita at about 07:00.  Little did we know we were facing a 32-hour journey to get back to our home in New Zealand.

Our first flight from Grand Junction to Denver was late due to a ground hold.  Fog at the Denver airport impacted all scheduled flights due to fog.  Luckily, we had plenty of time until our connecting flight departed, so the delay did not impact us.  We boarded and departed after waiting about 30 minutes.  The view of the aspens changing colors was superb.  Unfortunately, my cell phone did not capture the best photos.

Fall Color II

Once in Denver, we had a familiar walk of ¾ of a mile to get to the gate for our flight to Houston.  United Airlines was our carrier at this point.  We had flown United at the beginning of our trip from LAX to Denver.  On that flight, we had a light meal.  Based on that experience, I assumed receiving a light meal between Denver and Houston was a no-brainer.  I was wrong.  Our light meal was a bag of chips and a glass of wine.  That was in first class, not economy.

Arriving in Houston, the woman helping Leslie with the wheelchair had absolutely no idea where the United lounge was located.  After several other people trying to help us, we finally made it to the lounge.  As you read these next comments, please understand I am not trying to be snobbish.  I really do not fly business or first class very often at all.  The United lounge was an absolute shocker.  The buffet offered was cheese, crackers, and a bowl of soup.  Additionally, one had to pay for some beers and wines.  That is all completely contrary to Air New Zealand.  Did I mention Air New Zealand is our favorite airline on this planet?

Our next flight to Auckland was on Air New Zealand.  That was the good news.  The bad news is that we faced a 13+ hour flight.  That is a very long time to be on an airplane.  Luckily, we were both able to sleep a little on that flight.

In Auckland, we grabbed some coffee and waited for our final flight to Wellington.  For our Kiwi friends, I must mention Winston Peters boarded our flight.  He did smile and nod at me when I said hello as he passed.  I am sure he was on his way to Parliament to negotiate forming a new government after the recent New Zealand elections.

About an hour and one-half later, we were finally at home.

Fall Color I
Great times with great friends…even though I did not do so well with the selfie.
Brother and sister dancing.
And the winner is…
Tossing the bouquet toward the single women at the reception.
Eating the wedding cake.
Eating the wedding cake.
Shane and Hillary cutting the cake.
Speech I
Speech II
Speech III
Speech IV
Speech V
The wedding cupcakes and cake.
The departure hot rod.
Momma Bear and the C.S. at breakfast.
Dad and the bride at breakfast.
Momma Bear and the C.S.
The patch for the destroyer, U.S.S. Bulkeley.
The Culinary Specialist galley uniform.